§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry to have to raise this question, but there is no other opportunity I know of in which it can be raised in a prompt manner, and the newspapers this afternoon convey to my mind a reason why the matter should be debated, and why the House of Commons should debate it in a very serious fashion. A number of men have been charged, and are now undergoing sentences in connection with the disturbance in the Park yesterday. It happens that from the moment the disturbance commenced to the time the disturbance finished I was in the crowd, and am perfectly able to give a clear coherent account of what really happened. The police or whoever gave the right hon. Gentleman the information conveyed in his answer to my question, say that it started by some person calling for cheers for Lord Devonport. As a matter of fact nothing of the kind really happened. The disturbance arose from quite a different reason. A comparatively young man in the crowd made some very sneering remarks with regard to the collection that was being taken. One word led to another, and there was a very heated discussion, at the end of which this young man was asked to leave the crowd because of the disturbance that was being caused. Some policemen rushed up and commenced, not to remove this young man, but to push and hustle and jostle the men who were wanting him to go out. I would like to ask the House if we are not entitled, even at open-air meetings, to preserve order in some way or other when we know that at Liberal meetings, and even at Tory meetings and at Socialist meetings indoors, the stewards preserve order, and throw out both men and women who interrupt? At this meeting, instead of the police dealing with the person who caused the disturbance, they dealt with the people who resented that disturbance. 182 That led to the whole of the knocking about that took place. It is perfectly certain that had the police, and I am saying this with a full sense of responsibility, done their duty and removed the young man when he was causing a disturbance, there would have been no such thing as those score of men being taken to prison and before magistrates in London.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
By making noises and interrupting the speakers on the platform. He was doing exactly what the suffragettes do when they go to a Cabinet Minister's meeting and interrupt—exactly the same thing for which they are thrown out. I maintain it is the duty of the police, if they interfere at all, to interfere with the person who creates the disorder, and not with those who are trying to put the disorder down.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It was not merely an interjection. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that one man in a big crowd, can create a great disturbance by merely talking while the speaker is trying to make his speech. That is what happened here, and the police, instead of dealing with this man, dealt with those who wanted to do what is done at every other meeting—that is, put out the disturber. That led to disturbance towards Grosvenor Gate. I hope that when the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) holds an open-air meeting and is interrupted persistently, his friends will allow the interrupter to spoil his meeting.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Nobody called the police. My objection to the interference of the police is that if they had allowed the people who were carrying on the meeting to remove the man who was disturbing the meeting, he would have been removed. Instead of interfering with the people, who wanted to preserve order, they should have interfered with the man who was creating disorder. That is not the only point. When the man was edged out of the crowd 183 the police had jostled and Hustled a lot of peaceable citizens; they were backed across the narrow piece of grass that divides the road from where the meeting was held. It is said in the answer to my question that bottles and stones were thrown and chairs used. I never saw any bottles or stones thrown, or anything of this kind happen, and I was there all the time. It is also said that you could not put a cordon round the meeting. That is not the charge. The charge is that a cordon was put round the crowd who followed the man and the police, and that is certainly what happened. It is stated that Grosvenor Gate was closed to prevent disturbance in the streets. I say that the police not merely closed Grosvenor Gate, but refused permission to people to go out through Marble Arch. I want the Home Secretary to investigate that statement. I can quite understand that when they wanted to get their prisoners out it might have been an act of wisdom to close the small gate, but I contend that the police had no right to block up the whole of the road and prevent people leaving the park by the big Marble Arch exit. I went to the inspector and asked why people could not be allowed to go through Marble Arch, and I was told I could go out that way, but that nobody else would be allowed to do so.
I altogether deny the right of the police to prevent people leaving the park if they want to leave it. It is said they ought to have discriminated between a man whom they knew to be a Member of Parliament and ordinary citizens. That is quite nonsensical. The people have as much right to the use of that road as I or anybody else. Not merely were the people knocked about when following this young man out, but when they returned to the meeting the police assaulted the ordinary people in the most brutal manner. I am not speaking from hearsay. I saw constables assault young men and old men; I saw women and children knocked down by the police. Any persons who remonstrated, it did not matter who they were, were immediately punched and knocked down, if they could possibly be knocked down. I say that the police of London as a rule conduct these arrangements in a perfectly decent manner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes; I have said that in this House before on a similar occasion. I want also to say that when a thing like 184 this happens the authorities ought not to cloak it over, but take it in hand and see that it does not happen again. Other Members of this House were there, and I am speaking about what I know. It was not a question of following the police out into the street and back again into the Park, where the assaults were committed. People were assaulted in that part of the Park which is usually used by people who desire to sit down. I see no reason why the people should have been moved on. Anyone who attempted to stand still was at once assaulted by one or other of the constables, and the result was that a large number of people have been taken to prison, some of them because they only remonstrated. I understand that the Home Secretary does not intend to go into a full reply tonight, and I am putting the case fully, because I want the right hon. Gentleman to make an inquiry and allow witnesses to give evidence as to the truth or falsity of the statements made. People coming back were assaulted, and further they had only to make a remonstrance to a police constable about a prisoner to get either thumped about the body or the face. I saw a young man most brutally assaulted by one of the officers.
I say if you want to have respect for the law in London you ought to see at least that those who have to carry out the law carry it out in a decent manner. That is not doing so. The people who were in Hyde Park and the people who were assaulted had no idea of breaking the law out in Park Lane. An order was given to prevent the people leaving the park by way of the Marble Arch, and whoever gave that order and the order for the cordon, in my opinion, invited disorder and riot. I have made no statement but what I can substantiate, not only by what I saw, but by witnesses. I think the least the Home Secretary can do is, not merely to take the word of the police in this matter, but also the word of onlookers and citizens who were in the park at the same time. You do not, as a rule, where persons do certain things take the word of those only who have, to defend themselves. You allow that certainly, but you do not take their words as the last word in the statement of the case. I want the Home Secretary to take other evidence in the matter as well as that of the police.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I will certainly do my best to investigate the circumstances stated by the hon. Member, 185 because I am quite sure anybody who knows him would recognise—as I do fully— that every statement he makes he believes to be strictly true, and so far as he was able to see what occurred I am sure he intended to put fully to the House exactly a statement of the facts. The evidence given to me, however, contradicts in several material points certain of his allegations. One or two points can be very easily settled. He stated that a cordon of police was drawn, not round the whole of the crowd, but round the part of it that was moving. I am informed there were not enough police there to make such a cordon as he describes.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am informed also that the young man who interrupted was 186 very badly treated and hustled, and that the interference of the police was for the purpose primarily of protecting this young man. He had a perfect right to be at the meeting. I cannot altogether agree with the analogy my hon. Friend intends to draw between this case and that of Boulter.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Yes, because certain language he used was likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The police in this case were protecting a man because of the action of the crowd.
And, it being Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.